Title - 'Sibelius: Great Performances' [11 CD]
Artist - Various
For those not in the classical know, Jean Sibelius (actually born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius in 1865), was a Finnish violinist and composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. Widely recognized as his country's national composer, Sibelius is often credited for supporting the rise of the Finnish national identity in the country's struggle for independence.
Sibelius thought in terms of orchestral sonorities, not in those of the smaller-scale keyboard. He used an existing vocabulary, but in so highly idiosyncratic a manner that no attempt to imitate it can succeed. Indeed, as Vaughan Williams put it in a ninetieth birthday BBC tribute that I remember hearing, he had the capacity to make a C major chord sound entirely new. Take, for example, the D minor-cum-modal cadence that ends the Sixth Symphony or the haunting B minor chords that end Tapiola. They sound like no other composer.
In his constant renewal of his musical material, Sibelius almost prompts an astronomical analogy; that of continuous creation . Professor Gerald Abraham spoke of the first movement of the Third Symphony as comparable only with the greatest Viennese masters in its mastery of form. Indeed, it is his feeling for form and proportion that never fails to astonish.
Yet what Sibelius has to say is intimately related to the atmosphere and sensibility of northern Europe just as, say, Mussorgsky relates to the Russian ethos. And in these deep roots in his native environment lies his strength.
The record companies are all busy with reissues to note the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius. Kudos to Decca for coming up with the relatively novel idea of gathering together the Sibelius records the label issued in the 1950s and early 60s! They could have gone the DG route and cobbled together the usual stuff that has already been reissued countless times on CD, but they didn't.
Instead, Decca has given us an insight into Sibelius performances from what ended up being the final decade of the composer's life. Anchoring the set is Anthony Collins' legendary cycle of the 7 Symphonies, recorded in mono with the LSO. The box says that these recordings - which occupy the first 4 CDs of the collection - have been "newly mastered," though no date has been given for that remaster. If I find one, I shall update this review accordingly.
In closing, please understand that this incredible box-set contains all the recordings of Sibelius made by Decca in the 1950s (the composer died in 1957). Seven and 1/2 mono CDs, three and 1/2 stereo CDs.
That said, there is rather a lot of duplication here, with three Fifth Symphonies and four Finlandias. But it's all (still) good, as they say.